Thursday, August 25, 2016

Droppings from the Catholic Birdcage: When We Already Know That Every Zygote Is a Baby, Why Waste Time Looking at Scientific Evidence?

In a just-published essay, National Catholic Reporter regular Phyllis Zagano, who was recently appointed to the papal commission to study ordination of women to the diaconate, writes that embryo destruction is the great moral shortcoming of IVF. Phyllis Zagano takes for granted — this is not questioned or questionable, in her theological worldview — that magisterial teaching holding that a conceptus is a human person, a baby, from the moment egg and sperm unite, is true and binding on all Catholic consciences. 

In response, a reader, PetrusRomanus1, writes

Does anyone have any idea of how many embryos are "disposed of" in the average, seven-year long marriage/relationship? Or how many in the golden jubilee marriage? Even where IVF is not a factor? We don't hear much about that from the "pro-life" gallery!

50 to 90 percent is the estimate.

And, of course, Zamboni's Mom is absolutely right about this. This is scientific fact. The vast majority of zygotes do not implant in the uterine wall, but are naturally aborted by the female body, instead. 

Think about this for a moment, and at least one implication of how nature is designed to work should be obvious: if every act of coitus resulted in conception that then resulted in birth, the lot of women would be onerous in the extreme, as they bore child after child after child during their fertile years. The world would quickly become overpopulated if nature were designed to work in such a way that every fertilized ovum resulted in the birth of a baby.

But in hot response to Petrus and Zamboni's Mom, another reader, Chris Harvey, writes:

Does anyone have any idea what difference that makes? Natural occurrences do not involve moral, or immoral as the case may be, decisions and intent. To offer an analogy, every human being will eventually die, the vast majority from natural causes. Does that give anyone the right kill any of them? Even those who are inconvenient to a functioning society? 
The reason you don't hear anything about that from the pro-life "gallery" is because it is 100% irrelevant to the moral quandary of abortion. The reason you do hear of it from pro-abortion folks is because their unscientific views on abortion are so morally bankrupt that they are left to grasp for straws and obfuscate.

Got that?  Natural occurrences do not involve moral, or immoral as the case may be, decisions and intent.

And yet that is precisely the presupposition on which the Catholic natural law approach is hinged: in observing nature as it is and not as we wish for it to be, we can discern the intent of the designer of nature. To be moral, we need to cooperate with that intent and respect the telos for which nature has been designed. 

It is 100% irrelevant to the moral quandary of abortion to note that nature has been so designed — by its designer, if we have a theocentric worldview — that the vast majority of zygotes are aborted naturally by the female body. It is absolutely irrelevant to the theology of natural law, with its belief that nature as it has been designed points to the intent of the divine designer, to note that the large majority of zygotes do not reach maturity and are not even implanted in the uterine wall, but naturally abort. All of this is what Chris Harvey is telling us.

In defending the conclusions of Catholic natural law theology regarding conception and abortion, he turns natural law theology upside down, arguing against the very presuppositions on which it is based — because he does not like what nature itself reveals to us, insofar as what nature reveals to us militates against his preconceived ideas about how things should work and what a conceptus means.

In the last analysis, we end up at the magisterial position that a human being — a baby — is present at the moment of conception only by fiat. Scientific evidence radically problematizes this fiat. And neither the pastoral leaders of the church nor those defending them have been willing to permit wide, open, respectful conversation within the church itself about the way in which scientific findings radically problematize the taken-for-granted magisterial position, or about the different ways in which Catholics dealing with this evidence come to decisions of conscience about the evidence that diverge from the magisterial position. Those defending the magisterial position do not, it's clear, want to convince others of the legitimacy of their theological dictates by sound argument and careful reasoning attentive to scientific data, but to impose those dictates on others, including, it seems, members of their own Catholic community.

This has long been, to my way of thinking, the most telling moral argument possible against the "pro-life" arguments of many contemporary Catholics in the U.S. I have long since come to the conclusion that those promoting the magisterial position on conception and wanting to shove that position down the throat of the culture at large, by fiat and coercive law, are not in the least about respecting rationality, science, civil interchange with others, the plurality of moral and religious stances found in a secular democracy.

Their "pro-life" crusade is at heart fascistic. It's about forcing. It's about coercing. It's about reading out of the Catholic dialogue and the dialogue of society at large alternative viewpoints.

And because it is about reading other human beings out of a moral conversation that is absolutely necessary, if we're to reach clarity and consensus about problematic moral issues, the "pro-life" movement has long seemed to me far less about respect for post-birth human life than it is about demanding that the whole church and culture dance to the coercive moral tune of the magisterium. If "pro-lifers" really believed, after all, that all human life and not merely the lives of zygotes count, they couldn't possibly write essays about the Orlando massacre referring dismissively (and, let's be honest, cruelly) to the shooting that took place in "a nightclub" ("a nightclub," not a gay nightclub in which the human beings massacred were almost all LGBTQ human beings) in Orlando.

Could they?

For Catholic "pro-lifers," zygotes always count. But in the human community, the community comprised of post-birth human beings, only some people count for Catholic "pro-lifers" — or so it appears to me.

Others simply do not.

(Please see this footnote to the preceding posting.)

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